Photographing nocturnal scenes has become some what of a passion of mine and I thought a quick how to would be a fun thing todo.Most of what I have learnt is through trial and error but also the internet is a huge source of information. Let look at the things I consider most important beside getting out in the field:
Sturdy Tripod , Camera remote shutter release and camera that can shoot in bulb mode and have a reasonably good ISO quality ( Don’t be scared to push the ISO). The lens should also be of a minimum of F4 in aperture .As most of your work is in the dark , a good headlamp , torch and warm clothes………maybe even a little something like OBS that keeps you warm inside !
Please consider the amount of light pollution ( man made lights from towns , roads etc) Clouds and winds are also not a good proposition. The phase of the moon will also impact on the type of landscape or star trail type image you want to capture.
Understanding the Principals:
Focusing in the dark is sometimes not easy but the solution is : The concept of hyperfocal distance is easy to understand: focus a lens at the hyperfocal distance and everything in the photograph from some near distance to infinity will be sharp. Landscape photographs are often taken with the lens focused at the hyperfocal distance; near and distant objects are sharp in the photos. Some interesting information and explanations below.
The last basic tool would be how to calculate exposure time to either have no movement in the stars or to create the well-known star-trails effect. I use the 500 Method or the 600 Method to do this. The simple formula for 35mm ( full frame) format is 600 / (Focal Length) = Maximum Exposure Time. So, for example, if you’re shooting with a 24mm lens the math would be: 600/24mm = 25 seconds. This means that with a 24mm lens any exposure of longer than 25 seconds will show the stars as streaks rather than points of light. Using a 50mm lens according to the formula (600/50=12) a 12 second exposure was the maximum that wouldn’t show star streaking. And sure enough, even the few seconds more used for this exposure starts to show slight streaking. For use on a camera body with a crop sensor , convert the focal length to what it is in reality , eg a 50 mm lens on a 1.5 crop sensor would be 75mm on a full frame body.
The key components with nocturnal photographs will be with your coloration and white balance. Noise Reduction will also be of importance due to the exposure time and getting balanced exposure. I use Lightroom for all and have had great success.
Go out and experiment. There is not easy solution or magic setting one can use but only experience and experimentation ! Take up the challenge and get creative……..one can also use light sources to illuminate foreground subjects and be a unique photographer!
Peace and light – AA